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Celebs play high-stakes poker in Beverly Hills hotels, lawsuits say

By Alan Duke, CNN
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Celebs in high-stakes poker suit
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Actors, other Hollywood notables sued over secret gambling parties
  • Convicted swindler used investors' cash to pay gambling debts to celebs, suits say
  • Suits seek return of money won by Toby Maguire, Nick Cassavetes, Gabe Kaplan
  • No criminal investigation of the poker parties is under way, officials say
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Los Angeles (CNN) -- Celebrities who won big money in secret high-stakes poker games at Beverly Hills luxury hotels were paid with funds stolen from investors who had been lured into an illegal Ponzi scheme, a series of federal lawsuits contends.

Actors Tobey Maguire, Nick Cassavetes and Gabe Kaplan, along with professional poker player Dan Bilzerian, two nightclub owners and a Los Angeles lawyer are among at least 11 people being sued by a bankruptcy trustee.

None of the defendants in the civil lawsuits is facing criminal charges, but they do have to return at least $1.5 million of their alleged gambling winnings or make their case for the money in court.

What each defendant allegedly has in common is that they beat Bradley Ruderman in "regularly held, high stakes and clandestine 'Texas Hold 'em' poker games" held at several hotels and homes in the Beverly Hills area.

Ruderman, 48, is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for tax, wire and investor advice fraud convictions.

"Ruderman induced at least 22 victim-investors to give him approximately $44.3 million" that was never invested, one lawsuit said. Ruderman, a Beverly Hills resident, used the money, in part, to cover his gambling losses, it said.

The suits contend the poker games were "exclusive events, by invitation only, and that there was a regular roster of players consisting of wealthy celebrities, entrepreneurs, attorneys and businessmen."

The games were also unlicensed and illegal, so "the player had no legally enforceable contractual right to receive payment," the suits said.

The suits were filed by the bankruptcy trustee who is trying to get Ruderman's creditors some of their money back.

"Spider-Man" actor Toby Maguire won $311,200 from Ruderman at the poker table, the suit against Maguire said. The money was sent to him through seven bank transfers between June 2007 and May 2008, it said.

A spokesman for Maguire declined to comment to CNN, and his lawyer has not yet filed a response to the suit.

The trustee is suing director-actor Nick Cassavetes for $73,800 he allegedly won playing poker with Ruderman, court documents said.

The other defendants also have not responded to CNN requests for comment.

Gabe Kaplan, star of the 1970s sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter," is being sued for $62,000 the trustee contends he was paid by Ruderman after playing poker. Kaplan's poker skills are well known because of his frequent television appearances at professional gambling events.

Dan Bilzerian, a top professional poker player known as the "Blitz," beat Ruderman for $100,000, which the bankruptcy trustee wants back, court documents said.

There is no criminal investigation of the alleged gambling, according to a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney.

"Gambling is illegal, but it's a misdemeanor," Sandi Gibbons said.

The Los Angeles City Attorney's office, which prosecutes misdemeanors, is not aware of any criminal investigation, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The court documents pull back the curtain a bit on what is mostly done behind closed doors by the wealthy and well-known in Beverly Hills.

The poker games were "held at luxury locations such as The Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and occasionally at private residences of the poker players," the lawsuits said.

None of the hotels would comment on the allegations when contacted by CNN on Wednesday.

The games were "arranged by Molly Bloom, initially (as) an assistant to one of the poker players and then as a stand-alone business," court documents said. Bloom arranged "food, alcohol and massages" for the players and "arranged for the settlement of gambling winnings and losses between and among the players."

Bloom, who is being sued by the trustee for $473,200, denied in a response to the court that she was involved in organized illegal gambling. She acknowledged, however, that she "performed services and received value from Ruderman in good faith in exchange for her services."

Bloom passed "a large percentage" of the money sent to her by Ruderman to "third parties," her response said.

Ruderman's Ponzi scheme spanned seven years, starting in 2002 and ending with an FBI investigation in 2009, according to court papers.

"To obtain investments in the fund, Ruderman misrepresented to potential investors that Lowell Milken (chairman of the Milken Family Foundation and younger brother of Michael Milken) and Larry Ellison (the CEO of Oracle Corporation) were investors in the funds," federal court documents said.

Ruderman provided false accounting statements claiming his hedge fund investments earned between 15% and 61% each year and were valued at more than $800 million, the documents said. "In reality, the funds lost millions of dollars over the years and had a net liquidation value of under $650,000 at the end of 2008," documents said.

It was a year after the funds collapse in April 2009, and months after Ruderman pleaded guilty in January 2010, that the bankruptcy trustee discovered the large transfers of cash from the fund to pay his gambling debts, the lawsuits said.

CNN's Jack Hannah and Matthew Carey contributed to this report.

 
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